soar-logoWASHINGTON (7/26/14) — In his keynote address at the White House Rural Council’s Rural Opportunity Investment Conference, Gov. Steve Beshear discussed economic opportunities in Kentucky with investors, rural business leaders and government officials and highlighted the Shaping Our Appalachian Region or SOAR initiative.

“We encourage you to ‘Think Kentucky,’” Gov. Beshear said. “Check out the many opportunities to invest in Kentucky’s rural areas. We have a lot to offer, and opportunities are arising every day.”

The Governor outlined Kentucky’s publicized success as a national leader in education, economic development and health care, saying the state has gotten aggressive about confronting historic challenges.

“Why this whirlwind of activity?” he said. “Because as Kentucky struggled to survive the recession, we decided that mere survival wasn’t enough – we didn’t want to emerge shell-shocked and shattered but able and ambitious.”

The governor touted Kentucky’s efforts to create a stronger, more educated and healthier workforce, saying it has inspired investors and companies to take a closer look at the state.

The conference, organized by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, focused on how to propel the growth of small businesses across rural America.

The Governor in particular singled out SOAR as a “game-changing effort to rejuvenate eastern Kentucky.”

“It’s the brainchild of Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and myself and provides the structure for investment and the support systems to assist growing enterprises, as well as strong state and local leadership to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs,” Gov. Beshear said. “People who invest money, time and energy into the SOAR region should be reassured that their investment will be treated not like a handout but as a catalyst for economic development, jobs and capital.”

The Governor emphasized numerous SOAR initiatives, including a more than $100 million plan to expand high-speed broadband service in the state, beginning in eastern Kentucky, as well as the $382 million investment to four-lane the Mountain Parkway to bring commerce to and from the region.

Success in those efforts and others have come because the state has engaged the local region, nurtured many public-private partnerships, and has taken advantage of resources at all levels of government, Gov. Beshear said.

At the conference, the White House Rural Council announced the creation of the new U.S. Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund through which private entities can invest in job-creating rural infrastructure projects across the country. An initial $10 billion has been committed to the fund with greater investment expected to follow. Target investments will include hospitals, schools and other educational facilities, rural water and wastewater systems, energy projects, broadband expansion, local and regional food systems, and other rural infrastructure.

“I applaud the efforts of Secretary Vilsack and his team to find new approaches to support job-creating projects across the country,” Gov. Beshear said. “This is a very similar approach we are taking with SOAR to integrate public, private and philanthropic investments to improve a region.”

Earlier this year, the Governor and Congressman Rogers joined Secretary Vilsack to announce the expansion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s StrikeForce Initiative into four additional states: Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia. Nearly two-thirds of Kentucky’s counties – 73 total – are a part of the StrikeForce. The USDA is partnering with local community organizations, businesses, foundations and universities to support local projects and pursue needed investments into these rural areas.

“This program has brought more than $220 million to Kentucky in grants and loans for things like water and sewer infrastructure, homeownership financing, and business development and retention,” Gov. Beshear said.

In January, SOAR received an immediate boost when the White House designated eight counties in eastern Kentucky as a “Promise Zone” – the only rural region selected.

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